Michael Sattler – A story of faith
Michael Sattler, one of the early Anabaptist leaders, was born around 1495 in the small town of Staufen, located in the Black Forest region of south-western Germany, a mere 61 km. north of Basel, Switzerland. Sattler became a Benedictine monk in the abbey of St. Peter in the town of Freiburg, a few miles north of his birthplace, and may have become a prior there. He left St. Peter’s in 1525 when the monastery was overrun by troops from the Black Forest fighting in the German Peasants’ War. Joining the emerging Anabaptist movement, Michael participated in the infant baptism debate in Zurich back in November, 1524, between Ulrich Zwingli and some of his followers who pressed him for a more radical, Bible-based reform of the church. Sattler was baptized in June the following year and immediately began evangelizing in the area north of Zurich and southern Germany.
He married a former Beguine named Margaretha. The Beguines were a lay religious order that stressed the imitation of Christ through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion. Margaretha was described as a “refined and comely woman”. They were married sometime between May, 1525, and May, 1526. He learned the trade of weaving to support them in their new life together. Arrested by the Zurich authorities because of his Anabaptist teachings, he and Margaretha were forced to leave the city.
On February 24, 1527, he presided over a secret meeting of Anabaptist leaders in Schleitheim, Switzerland, to discuss and agree on their fundamental beliefs. Sattler presented to this conference a confession of faith which was approved and adopted without a dissenting voice.
Despite intensifying opposition to the Anabaptist renewal movement, immediately after that conference Michael and Margaretha went to the town of Horb, Germany, a small town in the Black Forest, to lead an Anabaptist congregation there. Almost immediately they were both arrested along with several others in the church and placed in the prison tower of Binsdorf. While there Michael wrote a letter to the Horb congregation encouraging them to be faithful in the midst of persecution.
Their trial took place in Rottenburg, Germany, on May 17 and 18; the accusation- espousing Anabaptist heretical views. A total of nine charges were laid against the prisoners. Michael was the spokesman for the group of prisoners, and used Scripture to address all the charges against them. Calling on teachers of the Bible to a debate, he made the following challenge: “If they show us with Holy Scripture that we are in error and wrong, we will gladly retract and recant . . .. But if we cannot be proved in error, I hope to God that you will repent and let yourselves be taught.” The prosecutor’s response – “The hangman will dispute with you!”
The sentence: “Michael Sattler shall be given into the hands of the hangman, who shall lead him to the square and then cut off his tongue; then chain him to a wagon, there tear his body twice with red hot tongs; and again when he is brought before the gate, five more times.” After this torture, he was to be burned alive at the stake.
On May 21, 1527, Sattler paid the ultimate price for following his convictions. An eyewitness wrote:
“On the morning of that day this noble man of God, in sight of horrible torture, prayed for his judges and persecutors and admonished the people to repentance. He endured the inhumane torture stipulated in the sentence. Then his mangled body was tied to a ladder. He prayed again for his persecutors while the ladder was placed upon the stake. He had promised his friends to give them a sign from the burning stake, to show that he remained steadfast to the end, enduring it all willingly for Christ. The fire having severed the cords wherewith he was bound, he lifted up his hand for a sign to them. Soon it was noticed that his spirit had taken its flight to be with Him whom he had steadfastly confessed under the most excruciating torture, a true hero of the faith.”
Two days later his wife Margaretha was drowned in the near-by Neckar River. A memorial stone in memory of their lives has been placed just outside of Rottenburg. It says, “They died for their faith.” He was only 35 years old at the time of his death.